Category Archives: Reference

A quick peek behind the Scenes (Or the real face of Animation)

A lot of times I’ve been told that if we, animators, own a “special” software. By the questions I’ve been asked, sometimes this “special” software becomes magical. Like if Pixar of DreamWorks had a set of parameters like: 50% action, 35% comedy and 15% character development and then you press a button and… Presto! You’ve got yourself a Blockbuster movie!

I can assure you that is anything but that.

Both 3D animation and 2D animation start the same way: with storyboards and moodboards. This tools are priceless and, more often than not, still done in it’s majority “by hand”. Sometimes, it is drawn directly into some software, using a Cintiq or a Tablet.

Background in process

Background in the process of being painted in Adobe Photoshop, using a scanned drawing as reference.

So as you can see animation is a technique, not a movie genre. It’s just a different way to tell stories that might not work that well in Live Action settings.

Most people got shocked when I explained that my final film was done with 707 final drawings (That is without counting rough animation, in which you sometimes do several times a scene, until you get it right!) and that all of those drawings were scanned and then digitally painted using Toon Boom Harmony (a very animator specific software).

This is a X-sheet in Toon Boom Harmony

This is a X-Sheet, in Toon Boom Harmony. First we fill this ones by hand -before- we even start drawing, in order to plan our animation. Then we type it back into the software, making sure each drawing is in order according to this sheet.

But at least Adobe Flash does the work for you, right? (I’ve been asked that several times). Adobe Flash is a very quirky piece of software. And I know Flash since my days in University, studying graphic design.  Truth be told, Flash does help you to stay more “on model”,  the technical term for a character that hasn’t been distorted. But the way animation works in Flash is very different to the traditional way of animating, and that’s why most Flash animations tend to be “snappy” and very fast paced. That’s the way it works best.  But Adobe decided to change Flash to a more programmer friendly software, and made things insanely difficult for animators (and Graphic designers) so must Animation studios own older versions of Flash to work with.  And that means this:

Flash Crashing

A very feared screen to see while animating. The newer versions of Flash have become more stable, but less animator friendly. So we just keep on saving VERY often.

And don’t get me wrong: Flash Animation is great! I was able to (while learning how to use Flash for animation purposes) to do a film that has the same lenght as my classical film… in one fourth of the time! Yes, that’s right!!! It’s a lot faster to animate on Flash than classically.

Right now Im starting to develop an Idea to do it on Toon Boom Animate Pro, so I can compare Flash against. I’ll keep you posted on that sometime in the future.

Now you know all the work that Animation needs, and it will give you a whole new level of appreciation of masters at Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and all those studios that make a big effort to entertain you. I’ll post a couple of clips of traditional animation, just for you to see all the work involved, this time around from Disney’s Fantasia 2000 (and one of my favorite sequences!):

Enjoy! And keep in mind that EVERY frame was drawn by hand and then cleaned up… lot’s of work!

Things I wished I had known… part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately, and the foggy parts of my mind are starting to become clearer in regards of working with animation. Maybe is a little bit of the sleep deprived status I’m in, or the books and posts of blogs I’ve read recently. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that there were some mistakes I did and I´ll make my best to not repeat them. I hope that you can learn from those mistakes and do it even better than anyone else has done it before!

One of the articles that resonated deep within me was this one, wrote by Patrick Smith at the Scribble Junkies blog (his partner in the blog is Bill Plympton, so bookmark it!). In that post, Smith has 4 vital points and adds a fifth by Plympton. This article, and the one I’m quoting, are focused on animated shorts, but I think it will work anywhere else.

The first advice tells you to Be honest, be yourself, push originality and base your idea for your film on personal experience. I agree even more now than at the beginning of my education at Vancouver Films School. I couldn’t copy much, because I’m not the greatest and most skillful artist on the planet… so I tried to tell a story that was close to my heart. Now I know that it was a good call. No one sees the world in the way you see it, and that’s the plus you can give. Having heroes is a great deal of inspiration, and they say imitation is flattery but at the moment of developing an idea, that comes across as a “Me-too” look, instead of an “I-am”. That originality is what sets apart a Chuck Jones from Tex Avery, Ted Newton or Brad Bird. But what comes across as originality is that they were honest enough to let some parts of their personality shine trough their work.

The second one says: Make all your ideas as simple as possible, and try to keep films short in length I learned that the hard way, by stumbling upon the same rock twice. You can tell a story in 30 seconds, flat, with all the action you might want (for a character driven piece, full of acting, I think you need more, at least 1 minute…but then again, I might be wrong as well). I wish I knew that one from the start. Here’s a video that proves that short short film can be good:

The third advice is Make your film for yourself, don’t make it to get a job after graduation, or a series on cartoon network, this thinking will only backfire. I couldn’t agree more. You have more than enough learning how to animate, storytelling principles, timing, etc. to add the total and unnecessary pressure of thinking that this is your golden ticket for stardom (and a Job). It might be, but If you have something that they haven’t seen so far it would be better, making advice number one even more important.  Also, Joe Murray describes the process of developing animated shows in his book “Creating Animated Cartoons with Character”. There is no way on earth that you can do all of that in your student film while learning how to do it. It will come across as half-baked and rushed. And that’s precisely what you don’t want. (Powerpuff Girls started as a student film from Craig McCracken in 1992 called ” Whoopass Stew!, but he continued to develop that short idea for some time after graduating from CalArts. It debuted as a series until 1998.)

David Levy got a big break as an Indie Director/Animator after working in Blues Clues and other shows with his animated short called “Good Morning”. In his book “Directing Animation”, Levy explains that he did that personal short in a period of 10 days, with several personal and professional problems… Quoting the book, he says: “I made Good Morning because there was something I needed to express, whether I understood what that was or not.”

That led to a lot of success, both personal and professional… but he never sat down to write an “Award Winnign short film“.

And last: Most important of all… live a life filled with challenge… push yourself artistically and personally. This is the one that I’ learning right now. Sometimes, you need to do stuff that WILL take you out of your comfort zone. And going out of your comfort zone is scary, but usually is rewarding in both experience and personal fulfillment.  Go offline if you’re hooked to the Internet. Read even if you don’t like it that much. Push it, push it and then push it some more!

(The Bonus was Plympton’s philosophy of making the animated short as funny, short and cheap as possible! )

Hope this post helps a bit. It helped me as I wrote it. If you think I’m missing something, let me know and I’ll add it!

Chris Sanders’s Kiskaloo

I found this Chris Sanders project online called Kiskaloo ( It was done between the time he was dismissed from directing “Bolt” at Walt Disney and before getting to direct Dreamwork’s “How to Train your Dragon”.

Amazing stuff, somewhere close to Lilo & Stitch and Calvin and Hobbes from Bill Watterson… truly inspiring! Hope you like it!




Kiskaloo » Archive » April 7, 2008.